PORTER- When William Hart scaled a pine tree to rescue his pet two years ago, he never imagined spending three hours on a limb 70 feet in the air before being rescued by the US Coast Guard or more recently, being featured on Animal Planet, a worldwide television network.
The fateful incident began around 5 p.m. on April 3, 2007 when Hart’s bird, Geronimo, managed to escape from his home through a window and wound up in a tall tree behind Hart’s house off of FM 1314. Hart scaled one thin pine tree and rocked it from side to side until he could grab and climb onto the pine tree where Geronimo was perched. After reaching his beloved bird, Hart soon realized he faced a greater challenge – climbing back down while holding the bird.
Members of Hart’s family dialed 911 and county dispatchers sent crews from the Porter Fire Department, Montgomery County Hospital District EMS and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. Before Hart’s dilemma was solved some three hours later, members of The Woodlands Fire Department, the Houston Police Department and the US Coast Guard were also involved.
It also began as a typical day for local and national news videographer Scott Engle, who lives east of Conroe and is also a contributor to Montgomery County News. Engle heard the dispatch over his scanner and responded the bizarre rescue, where he began filming Hart on the limb, cuddling Geronimo, as Porter firefighters scrambled on the ground to try and find a solution that would get the pair safely to the ground.
PFD Chief Jody Binnion said a ladder truck was not an option because they weigh up to 20 thousand pounds. The tree was unreachable by ladder apparatus from the paved road and recent rains had left the ground soft, further complicating the situation.
As would-be rescuers tried to strategize, while swatting swarms of mosquitoes, Hart remained calm on the small limb, seven stories in the air. It was obvious to all involved that he was not coming down without his feathered friend.
An HPD helicopter arrived with a rope system typically used for water rescues. However, after multiple attempts using a ring-shaped flotation device attached to a rope, the heavy foliage around the tree forced HPD to abort the mission.
With darkness closing in and options and ideas dwindling, those on the ground watched Hart with growing concern, knowing one wrong move could be his last. In fact, the witnesses appeared more concerned than the man in danger. Hart kept Geronimo under his shirt some of the time, taking him out to talk to him, and then putting him back. Hart even smoked a cigarette or two, looking as calm as though he were leaning against his kitchen table instead of a thin tree top where he might draw his last breath.
The Coast Guard helicopter arrived and lowered a rescuer near the tree limb. After a few attempts, he was able to retrieve Hart and Geronimo less than ten minutes after arriving on scene.
Hart later confirmed that he was never really afraid. He was more worried about Geronimo, adding the he had the bird since it was five or six weeks old and considered it his “baby.”
Engle captured the entire event on tape and the story was so bizarre that every television station in Houston aired it that evening, and some sent news helicopters to the scene for an aerial view. Some national network news programs also aired the story.
Everyone thought the event was memorable, but ended when Hart and Geronimo were safely home.
However, the story eventually reached producers with the Discovery Communications’ Animal Planet Network series, “Untamed and Uncut.” Representatives contacted Engle about obtaining his video and interviewed him at his home in late 2008.
Engle is more comfortable behind a camera than in front of it, but granted the interview since he was a witness to the entire incident.
The episode that made Geronimo’s escape famous worldwide aired for the second time last Saturday.
After the dramatic rescue, Hart had Geronimo’s wings clipped to prevent another adventure.
Hart is no longer chasing Geronimo up trees, but Engle continues chasing crazy stories…